Letter from the Provost

Posted: December 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I share here a letter sent by Provost David Wu to the Mason community today, where he lays out his priorities and his view of the evolution of our university.

By Provost David Wu

Dear Fellow Patriots,

As we look forward to the final stretch of the year and the upcoming winter break, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude for your warm welcome and to share my reflections as the new provost.

My first few months have been an enlightening introduction to the George Mason University community. It has been a privilege to meet countless committed, enthusiastic, and talented people, from students, to faculty and staff, to alumni and community leaders. Through you, I have gained tremendous insight and a true appreciation for this great institution.

Trained as a systems engineer, I always pay a great deal of attention to connecting the dots – integrating seemingly disjointed pieces into a collective whole that is greater than its parts. Though we’ve had to adjust to significant state budget reductions and an environment of declining public funding, when I look at the shifting economic climate and the evolving role of higher education, I see an opportunity for Mason to take a unique leadership role. We have all the essential ingredients to go from great to distinctive: talented and creative people, world-class buildings and facilities, and our location in one of the most dynamic and vibrant regions in the world. Under President Cabrera’s leadership, the Mason community has developed an inspiring and comprehensive Strategic Plan that provides the developmental framework for the next decade. It is under this framework that I am sharing with you my plans moving forward.

Our Intellectual Signatures

Now is the time to reexamine what Mason should be known for–areas where Mason represents true excellence and intellectual distinction. To be clear, a top-down approach of picking winners and losers will not get us there; it will require a thoughtful and engaged approach based on interdisciplinary collaboration. In the coming months, my colleagues and I will invite you to explore Mason’s intellectual signatures–the challenges we choose to take on that will make a real difference for our society in education, research, and innovation.

Addressing these societal challenges will require collaboration across disciplines to an extent and intensity that will push our cultural envelope, an essential step for us to go from great to distinctive. Let’s examine the new needs created by broad societal challenges America is facing, including health and healthcare; all aspects of conflicts and security; or global prosperity; and decide how to draw from Mason’s diverse intellectual portfolio to make a long-lasting, global impact of real consequence.

Much of this dialogue is to rejuvenate what is innate for Mason and what brought us here in the first place. My goal is to bring forward an institutional platform that will lower barriers to innovation and collaboration, not only in research and scholarship, but also in education, curriculum design, and external engagements. We will work together to figure out the best ways to make this happen.

Our Structures and Resources

As we find new ways to collaborate across disciplines, let’s take a serious look at how we conduct our business as a university. Mason has grown rapidly in the past 40 years. I have observed that structurally we have not caught up with the scope and complexity of who we are today. In the past, a majority of the funding came from one source—the commonwealth, and our system was designed to centrally distribute these resources. But now, resources are generated from many different academic markets and funding sources, while the amount of funding we receive from the state continues to decline. We need to be an institution that is agile, flexible, and responsive to meet this new reality.

In partnership with the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance, we are embarking on ambitious reform of our financial, operational, and administrative functions. The work started in October 2014, and four taskforces were formed to address operational effectiveness, a new budget model, overall debt levels and reserves, and enrollment management. The taskforces, consisting of members from the faculty, student body, administrative staff, and academic unit leaderships, are expected to make recommendations throughout the winter and the spring semester.

Our People and Communities

As a world-class institution of higher learning, we must continue to cultivate a diverse, stimulating, and intellectually collaborative environment for students, faculty, and staff. It is this stimulating environment that attracts the most talented people to work and to flourish, and it is the aura of creativity that draws the very best students. To this end, my plan is to broaden our collaboration and engagement, where ideas are exchanged and cultivated frequently, with ease, and across traditional boundaries. We will put forward a transparent peer review process that provides a mechanism for the vetting and funding of initiatives from across the institution.

We should strive for diverse venues for engagement, from town hall meetings, symposia, workshops and seminars, to art performances, business plan competitions, technological exhibits, and entrepreneurial initiatives that engage our faculty, staff, students, and the entire community.

The next decade is a time of opportunity and change for our faculty and staff. While we are focusing our efforts broadly on retaining and attracting top talents by boosting faculty and staff development, research, and engagement opportunities, it is a top priority to examine and address compensation levels as well. Our challenge is to balance the high cost of living in the Washington, D.C. region and rewarding and retaining our outstanding faculty and staff, while keeping tuitions in line with our public education mission.

Our Sleeping Giant

Mason has a physical presence at eight different locations throughout the region, with partners such as the Smithsonian Institution, Northern Virginia Community College, and with exciting new projects such as the Potomac Science Center for Environmental Research, and the Point-of-View research and retreat center for conflict resolution. At the Fairfax Campus, Mason has a vibrant student life, rigorous academic and research programs including arts, humanities, and social sciences; public health, education, and natural sciences; and information sciences and technology. At the Prince William Campus, we have significant capabilities in medical and healthcare education, biomedical research, and emerging opportunities in physical science and engineering. Our Arlington Campus draws current and aspiring professionals to law, economics, policy, government, and conflict analysis, and increasingly to business and entrepreneurship.

When I connect the dots for these amazing developments over 40 years of hard work, innovation and creativity by Mason and its partners and friends throughout the region, I see that we have been quietly building a sleeping giant. This giant is now ready to stand up and take on its role as the premier public research university for the nation’s capital–George Mason University will be the intellectual and innovation center as well as the economic development engine for the region.

What truly sets Mason apart is the belief that we can be a world-class research university while serving an incredibly diverse population, with students from all backgrounds, at different stages of their lives, and from all over the world. After all, our impact as an institution is about drawing, retaining, and producing top talents for our community, our nation, and our world. I look forward to working with you all as we make this the best university for the world.

Sincerely,

S. David Wu
Provost and Executive Vice President

Write to Ángel Cabrera at president@gmu.edu

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